Americans Send Books to Croatia
by Stephen Schwartz
Zeljko Urban, a Croatian American engineer from Pacific Grove (California(, thinks that what Croatia and Slovenia, now struggling for independence from Yugoslavia, need most are books.
He has arranged to send 30,000 books, valued at $1 million, to Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia.
""The topics range through every aspect of art and technology," he said. ""Most are textbooks, in English, because those were what the people in Croatia asked for."
Urban said the need for books is especially great because the Communist government of Yugoslavia did not spend money to keep educational institutions up with modern developments, in addition to neglecting such areas as business and environmental studies.
""Books were one of the first things to be sacrificed under the budgetary practices of the old regime," he said. ""We are trying to make up for 45 years of intellectual poverty."
Urban said the effort was organized through the Sabre Foundation, an umbrella organization in Massachusetts that has coordinated book drives for the new democracies in Eastern Europe.
""They began with Poland and Hungary in 1986, then moved to Czechoslovakia before coming to Croatia," he said. ""They have sent more than $10 million in books to the region."
He added that the Sabre Foundation's efforts are limited to nongovernmental recipients, although they are backed by the U.S. Commerce Department and other federal entities.
The foundation arranged tax deductions for publishing houses that donated books. It then solicited seed money and volunteer time from people such as Urban, who are U.S.-based, politically active and of East European descent.
""As a volunteer, I had to do the leg work to get the program going," Urban said. ""It took a lot of phone calls as well as organizing transportation."
Urban, along with Sunnyvale engineer Vicko Matulovic, took charge of the Croatian phase of Sabre's program. Urban recently returned to California after a trip to Croatia to set up the distribution for the books. More than 50 institutions, ranging from university departments to Jewish community organizations, will receive books. Allotments will also go for the use of hospitals and hearing-impaired children.
""We have to keep in line with IRS requirements by focusing on the needy," Urban said. ""But there is a special emphasis, particularly in the area of business, on information about the free market and privatization of the economy."